On December 7, 2013, a jury in South Texas found that Heckmann Water Resources Inc., an oil patch supplier near San Antonio, Texas, negligently failed to maintain a tractor-trailer truck that caused the death of Carlos Aguilar. The lawsuit stems from a May 2012 accident in which Aguilar, a U.S. Army veteran, husband, and father of seven, was doing work at the Eagle Ford Shale oilfield when a drive shaft broke off from under a Heckmann tractor-trailer traveling at 67 mph. The 20-pound part crashed through the windshield of the pickup truck that Aguilar was riding in, killing him.
Aguilar’s family filed suit against Heckmann and one if its employees, alleging that Heckmann failed to properly maintain the tractor-trailer. The jury ultimately found the company negligent and awarded Aguilar’s family (his parents, wife, and seven children) $281 million, which included $181 in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages against Heckmann. The jury did not find Heckmann’s employee negligent. Heckmann’s Scottsdale, Arizona-based parent company, Nuverra Environmental Solutions, plans to appeal the decision. The verdict is one of the largest verdicts in Texas history.
Texas is by far the largest producer of crude oil and natural gas in the United States. In addition, the Eagle Shale Ford area continues to grow. There are currently 265 oil rigs operating in Eagle Ford Shale, compared to only 158 operating rigs in 2010. This means more oilfield workers and likely more accidents both at the oilfield rig and in and around the area involving trucks transporting supplies. In fact, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, the largest recent jumps in fatal traffic accidents are those involving commercial vehicles.
In 2012, Texas Department of Transportation crash reports indicated that there were 2,723 fatal and serious injury crashes and 248 traffic fatalities in the Eagle Ford Shale energy sector, a 23-county region stretching from Laredo to Madisonville. The fatalities represent a 40% increase in roadway fatalities in the area from 2011. The leading cause of crashes was reportedly speeding and driver inattention. Commercial trucks were involved in 9% of accidents in which someone was killed or seriously injured. In addition to vehicle accidents, other common oilfield accidents are caused by the following:
• Failure to implement safety devices
• Negligent operation of machinery and other devices
• Insufficient rig or equipment maintenance
• Unqualified or improperly trained workers
• Defective products and machinery
• Contractor negligence or recklessness
As mentioned previously on this blog, there were 11 worker deaths in the Eagle Ford Shale between 2009 and February 2013. These 11 deaths account for nearly one-third of the 35 completed Occupational Safety and Health Administration fatality investigations completed in Texas for the oil and gas industry since 2009. Notably, the actual death toll is most likely higher, because investigations for recent deaths are not available for review. Unfortunately, since our last blog post regarding this subject, another individual, a contractor also working in the Eagle Ford Shale, was killed in May 2013 at a BHP Billiton Petroleum construction site in Karnes County.
The San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin and Shaw handle serious injury and wrongful death claims caused by oil companies and their subcontractors and third-party contractors, including, but not limited to, companies utilizing commercial vehicles to haul pipes and other materials. If you or your family has suffered a loss while working in the oilfield or been injured in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, call the Law Firm of Carabin and Shaw at 1-800-862-1260.
Shale company ordered to pay $281M in wrongful death, by Guillermo Contreras, San Antonio Express-News
Workers dying on the Eagle Ford Shale, San Antonio Express-News
Increased Traffic, Crashes Prompt New Campaign to Promote Safe Driving on Roadways Near Oil, Gas Work Areas, Texas Department of Transportation
Worker Safety at Texas Oil and Gas Companies Remains an Issue, March 13, 2013, Texas Injury Lawyers Blog